The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections reported Thursday that a recall of East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton could not be put on a citywide ballot due to a lack of valid signatures on a submitted petition.
Six hundred signatures were necessary for the recall to move forward, but only 298 of the nearly 700 submitted were approved. This has been East Cleveland's third unsuccessful attempt.
Mayor Norton, who's hosting a merger meeting Thursday evening, said that the city's financial woes have made "politics personal," and called the recall effort the latest "episode of East Cleveland theater."
But according to organizer Gerald Strothers, Jr., East Cleveland residents feel as though Norton has turned his back on them.
"They feel that [Norton] sold out the city," Strothers said, in response to a question regarding Norton's latest merger views. "And even though for the longest time they didn't want to believe it, as soon as they open their eyes up, they see it. People are just upset."
Strothers said that he and a small group of activists canvassed door-to-door and visited area businesses to gather signatures. He said that the Mayor's fumbling of the Helen Brown senior center, the condition of city streets, and a perception of improper spending were the primary factors in residents' willingness to sign.
"I was at the McDonald's," Strothers told Scene,
"and all I had to do was ask people."
Strothers, who says he'll immediately undertake a fourth attempt to gather signatures for a petition, says it's essential to mobilize the 40-and-under crowd.
"We call them kids in East Cleveland," he said. "And they don't vote. The last time they came out to vote was for Barack Obama."
Asked to characterize how big of an issue the recall and the merger talks are for residents of East Cleveland, Strothers couldn't overstress the importance.
"Oh my God, it's so big," he said. "It's just nuts."
He said residents believe more and more strongly that Norton has orchestrated a behind-the-scenes deal to obtain a position in Cleveland leadership once the merger is complete. Norton's insistence to the contrary — that he'll be poor and jobless but supports a merger for the sake of the city — only strengthens residents' convictions.
"The average person doesn't believe that [he'll be jobless]. And you know
nobody in East Cleveland believes that," Strothers said. "All he has to do, like a bounty hunter, is bring us in. We're wanted, dead or alive."